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Smoking Triggers: Stressful Situations

Stress as a Trigger for Smoking

For many people, smoking is seen as a way of relieving stress, and quitting smoking is often described as stressful. So when a stressful situation occurs soon after quitting, it’s not hard to see why it can be pretty hard to manage!

But it is possible to manage stress without smoking.

For starters, it helps to consider the following:

1. Think about why you first started smoking: Chances are, it had nothing to do with stress – it was probably for fun, to experiment, or due to peer pressure. Somewhere along the line, you learnt to associate smoking with stressful moments – so now, your brain links the ‘reward’ from smoking with relief of stress. This is a learnt ‘habit’

2. Don’t confuse nicotine withdrawals with relieving stress: When you smoke, you’re likely to top up your nicotine levels first thing in the morning after they’ve dropped overnight, to avoid nicotine withdrawal symptoms. You’ll then continue to ‘top up’ nicotine levels during the day as levels start to drop. If you don’t, withdrawal symptoms such as irritability will get worse.

These ‘top ups’ from smoking occur in all sorts of situations, including stressful moments. This means you end up feeling that a stressful moment has been relieved, when you were actually just relieving unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Tips and Tricks for Stress-Related Smoking Triggers

  • Know that stress affects smokers and non-smokers alike.
    Think of it like this: A smoker and a non-smoker both have an important meeting to get to. They both miss the bus, so they’re both stressed. What do they do? They’re in the same situation, but they deal with it differently. Clearly, stressful events will always occur, but ultimately an ex-smoker must learn to manage these events in a different way.
  • You can manage stress - you’ve done it before! The fact is, you still had to deal with stress before you started smoking – and you have the ability to manage it just fine without smoking.
    It might help to think about how you coped with a stressful situation when you were a child, such as after having an argument with a friend (which probably felt stressful at the time).
    The trick is to start practicing alternative stress-coping strategies as part of your quit smoking plan – perhaps the same things you did a long time ago.
  • Use Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). Quitting can be stressful and withdrawal symptoms are a significant part of that stress. Why not talk to your GP or pharmacist about adding NRT to your quit plan?
  • Know that ex-smokers are less stressed. While the initial part of quitting smoking can be stressful, as time goes on it gets easier to manage stress, not harder. In fact, the research is clear – it consistently shows you’re more likely to reduce your stress levels by becoming a non-smoker.


How could you treat yourself to make yourself feel better if you feel stressed during your first few weeks of quitting?
Read more about rewarding yourself on your quit journey >

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